The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is considered by some to be the start of one of the greatest cinematic trilogies of all time. Directed by visionary Peter Jackson, it tells the story of the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Happy Feet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and his journey to destroy the One Ring, an item of great power that is needed to bring the dark lord Sauron back from his spirit form to dominate Middle Earth.
It is a long film, but only because of all the content in it. The Fellowship of the Ring opens with a brief history of Middle Earth, providing the audience with an introduction to J.R.R Tolkien’s complex fantasy universe. From there on, we are shown the idyllic Shire and the lives of Frodo, his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, Chariots of Fire, Alien) and his friends Sam (Sean Astin, The Goonies, Rudy), Merry (Dominic Monaghan, Lost, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Pippin (Billy Boyd, Master and Commander, Seed of Chucky). There peaceful lifestyle is threatened by Sauron, and his relentless servants the Ring-Wraiths, leading Frodo and his friends to start their epic quest to take the ring to Mount Doom in the heart of the dark lands of Mordor, the only way it can be destroyed.
The supporting cast of the film is absolutely amazing, with the actors playing the titular Fellowship alone being Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Sean Bean as Boromir, Orlando Bloom as the elf Legolas and John Rhys-Davies as the dwarf Gimli. Other smaller roles have been given to Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler and Hugo Weaving. Amongst these, McKellen and Bean stand out particularly, adding extra depth to their roles. It is a testament to Jackson that all of these characters feel relevant, but with such an extensive group of actors, the screen time of some of the smaller roles is quite small. However, the only way to change this would be to have made the film longer, and it probably would have dragged it out too much.
The cinematography of this film is beautiful, with sweeping landscape shots of New Zealand, where it was shot. Jackson also uses a variety of old and new techniques to create Middle Earth. These range from simple camera-trickery to show the height difference of the hobbits, and extras with prosthetic make-up for the orcs, to the use of CGI effects to create some of the larger creatures. The balance of these practices is spot on, and it never feels like 3 hours of special effects.
The Fellowship of the Ring is an extremely slow starting film, and half of it is character development. It’s good that Jackson didn’t rush it, but it did start to drag after a while. That’s not to say that there aren’t any action sequences (the Moria sequence was a personal highlight), but compared to later films in the trilogy, Fellowship is a more dialogue-centric film. It does what it sets out to do, introduce a complex universe filled with rich characters. The audience gets to know the central characters, and Fellowship of the Ring paves the way for a great fantasy trilogy.